A few years back, when I was in college, one of the events of our fest was a treasure hunt. Start with the first clue, and then look for the second whose location is revealed by the first, the third from the second and so on till the final one that leads us to the treasure which was a glass vase (and our prize). Imagine if a treasure hunt of such proportions was to be put into motion by a murder, and the end reveals the answers to the mystery of the murder and other questions. It is such a premise that is put across by the novel, The Emperor’s Riddles.
The novel moves in two directions. The first is in the present time, where the murder of historian Ram Mathur sets the wheels of a treasure hunt into motion, in a way we wouldn’t have imagined. The clue left by the historian on his own forehead makes his daughter Sia decide to call upon the services of his good friend and mystery writer Om Patnaik to aid her in a quest for answers while the police department led by Suri investigate the historian’s brutal murder. The clues are in a way that we would feel impossible to believe. The quest, in treasure hunt fashion, takes them to the corners of the country, from Sarnath to Kashmir, Kerala to Kolkata.
In a parallel story, we’re taken time traveling to the time of an Emperor who wages war to make himself supreme ruler, and who faces the enigma that is the answer to Sia’s quest when the enigma threatens the survival of the human race.
The idea that a treasure hunt of such proportions can happen is something very exciting and starting with the way the duo (Sia and Om) solve the riddles and reveal the clues, till the last clue and the revelation of a final twist, the book managed to keep me hooked. More than just a quest, the plot went through what can be said as the legacy of India perhaps. The author takes ideas from mythology and history to concoct an impact in modern times, almost like a portent. I also liked the impact of the number 9 through the novel and the idea that what is thought of as the future already happened in the past. The final twist is something so unexpected that it made me wonder if it was even possible. Writing wise, the language is appealing and the research done to make the history part possible is quite extensive.
On a flipside, I did not feel much for the characters, and it was the curiosity to know what the next riddle would be and where it would lead them that made me turn the pages. The character of Alia Irani was interesting at first, but I didn’t understand why she was brought into the picture. The parallel timeline in the past, it felt confusing. I liked the idea, but I don’t feel it worked and some parts of it don’t add anything to the first timeline which is the key.
I loved the riddles, the mystery and the quest across the country, and especially the twist at the very end. The book overall was entertaining, but the alternate parallel timeline set in Indian history didn’t entertain as much as the quest itself. The thrill does spill however, and in the end, that’s what matters.
Why should you read it?
A plot with a treasure hunt that starts with a murder and sends the protagonists across the country was always going to be interesting, but an unexpected twist at the end made it even better. The writing is simple, and it kept me hooked. No other reason needed to read it.
What you may not like…
The alternate parallel timeline that is set in Indian history doesn’t entertain much at all, and after a while, feels boring. And the characters felt somewhat dull. The latter doesn’t have much impact because of the quest, but the former didn’t work at all in my opinion.
Title: The Emperor’s Riddles
Author: Satyarth Nayak
Genre: Historical Thriller
Price: Rs. 299
(29th June 2014)